Saturday, January 29, 2011

Do good: Feed a child in Haiti for free

Right now, at the World Food Program's website you can Feed a child in Haiti simply by taking a free quiz. Please take a minute to go do it. Every little bit helps.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Frugal Friday: Cutting the water bill

So, in evaluating our budget for our Saving in 2011 goal, one of the areas I wanted to address first was our utility bill. The bills themselves gave me an answer as to where to begin: my water bill was through the roof.
Water is a bill that I haven’t really thought about much because usually when we lived in apartments, it was included in the rent. When we moved into the house, I remembered being told that “water is cheap” – which is true compared to electricity and gas. However, if you don’t keep track of your usage, it’s also a place where you can waste a lot. So, I decided to spend the month attacking it. Here are the steps I took to monitor and decrease our water usage.
(Note: If your water bill is through the roof, the first thing you should always do is check for leaks. Check all your faucets, see if any of your toilets are running. This is waste that’s just pure waste. However, if you’ve done that, move on and look at your usage.)

  1. Wash full loads. This is the easiest tip of all because not only does it not involve any sacrifice, it actually involves doing less work. Instead of doing laundry, just. . . don’t do laundry. I don’t like to pile it all up, but instead of doing laundry every day, I skip every third day. I also don’t run my dishwasher unless it’s full, and have been pushing to go from every day to every other day. This takes a little more planning so I can make everything fit and so I don’t run out of bowls.
  2. Use “light” cycle. Also a no brainer. I set my dishwasher to light cycle and my washer to “light soil.” These are shorter cycles that use a little less water. Probably not a huge difference, but for every cycle, it helps.
  3. Take back to back showers. With the weather as it is, it’s been taking especially long for our water to get warm, which means running the water for a while before we can stand getting in. If I shower immediately after my husband does, I don’t need to let it run first.
  4. Wash pots and pans while the dishwasher is running. Same idea as above. The water is already hot, so I don’t need to let it run before I can wash things.
  5. Scrape, don’t rinse. Another tip that involves less work! Most decent dishwashers don’t require dishes to be rinsed first. Scrape off all solid particles into the trash and throw them right on in.
  6. Lower your flow. If you don’t already have a super low flow toilet, you can make it a little lower by putting a brick or a plastic bottle of water in the tank. You might not want to do this with a low flow toilet because it will decrease your flushing action even more.
  7. Turn off your icemaker. Okay, I felt dumb about this one. It’s January. The ice that’s already in there will last me an awfully long time.
Moderate – These tips require a little work or sacrifice, but are definitely doable.
  1. Turn off the water while you brush your teeth, for goodness sake. This one is a no-brainer for me, but somehow it makes hubby feel better to have it on. Some gentle reminding, however, can work wonders. 
  2. Take shorter showers. Okay, I like luxuriating in a 30 minute shower as much as the next gal, but honestly with the baby, these days I like sleep better, so this one has been pretty easy to establish. I don’t wash my hair every day which makes this easier, but mostly if you just get down to business, your shower will be short enough. Aim to decrease by even 5 minutes a day.
  3. Wear your clothes more than once. I don’t mind at all wearing the same pair of pants or pajamas more than one day, but you have to go on your level of squeamishness here. Think about, though, those big bulky sweaters and hoodies that you wear over your own clothes. Hang them back up instead of throwing them in the hamper. They aren’t dirty. Honest.
  4. Practice smart dishwashing. There is a technique here. First, fill any pots with stuff stock on them and let them soak. Here’s the trick: use that same water to wet your utensils and miscellaneous stuff. Either fill the pot with the water running off everything else, or fill the pot, then swish the items around in the water. Then, with the water off, wash everything with a soapy cloth or sponge and set it aside. Turn on the water once to rinse everything clean at the same time. Maybe not the clearest explanation, but play around with it and look for ways to use less water. Often they are more efficient in terms of time as well.
  5. Use the same glass or mug all day. Use the utensils that you cooked with to eat with. Man, if it means less washing, I’m down.
Hard/extreme – may not be suited for all readers – or, you know, for me.
  1. Turn off the water in the shower while you wash your hair, lather yourself up, or shave your legs. I am a fan of this idea in theory, but dude, it’s cold. If you’re tougher than me, though, go for it.
  2. Don’t shower every day. I could totally pull this off, especially with being home now, except for hubby’s judging stare. Oh, and the spit up in my hair.
  3. If it’s yellow, let it mellow. Another one I’d probably try if I lived alone but that would not go over so well otherwise. Consider guests’ feelings as well, please.
Since I am clearly not so extreme, I’d love to hear your suggestions on ways to save water. My most recent water bill was much lower (err, so much lower I’m thinking the last reading might have been a fluke, but oh well! I’m still saving money and going green!), but I’m always looking for ways to conserve even more. For more frugal ideas check out Frugal Fridays at Life as Mom.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Keeping the house clean in 2011: On the baby's schedule

So, I said earlier that it was one of my resolutions this year to keep my house cleaner. If you’ve been a reader for a little while, you know that this is an area I have struggled with for a while. You also know that I have a 4 month old at home.
In the past month or so, my precious angel has decided that she doesn’t need naps that are longer than 30 minutes, and sometimes that she doesn’t need to nap at all. Needless to say I disagree. I Unfortunately, trying to get her back on track and rested means that I’m spending more time sitting in her room trying to get her to go to and stay asleep, giving me even less than 30 minutes at a shot to get my household work done. This has made it a bit challenging to try to keep up with the cleaning. So I’ve come up with this threefold plan, and hopefully it will work for me.

  • I do everything I can with the baby. For example, I clip my coupons and pay my bills sitting on the floor while she has tummy time, and I made a game out of folding my laundry. I bundle her up to go outside and get the mail, and I try to carry her around as I do light decluttering. This makes these tasks take a little longer, but it’s fun for her and it means I can spend those few nap minutes on things I can only do when she’s sleeping.
  • I do as much as I can in the evening when my husband is home to play with the baby. I do all the dishes, some housework, make lunch for my husband and sometimes for myself for the next day, and defrost something for the next day’s dinner.
  • I need to prioritize the work in the household and accept that not everything will get done all the time, but that some things must get done and I must do them first.
So, when I do have a few minutes, like at the beginning of a nap, or when the baby is entertaining herself on her play gym (and ignoring me), I choose a quick 5 minute task to do. I do them in the order listed below. This way I know that the things that must be done are getting done, and when possible I also do what should be done. Since the length of a nap is never guaranteed, breaking things up into 5 minute chunks means I never have a job half finished when I have to run and get the baby. First, I do my daily chores:
  1. I make my bed.
  2. I start a load of laundry, or switch it to the next position.
  3. I put away any dishes on my draining rack, empty my dishwasher, and reload it. (Or any one or two of these tasks, if I get interrupted.)
  4. I grab the bags out of any full trashcans, and gather up all my rinsed recyclables to take out to the bins.
  5. I do a quick throw-away/put-away drill in my living room and kitchen.
  6. I do any make-ahead meal prep that I can do for dinner (i.e., chopping onions, washing vegetables).
Then, once all my daily household chores are done, I pick a weekly chore from the list below. At one point, I had chores assigned to specific days of the week, but then if I had a bad day two Mondays in a row, my floors didn’t get washed for three weeks. Now I just do the chores in order. If I get to two in a day, I get ahead, if I don’t get to any, it’s okay.
  1. I sweep and damp mop all my hard floors. (Or just sweep, or just mop)
  2. I vacuum my carpets. (Usually I divide this, upstairs and downstairs)
  3. I dust with a damp rag or microfiber cloth.
  4. I clean my mirrors and sinks, toilets, and shower (Again, or I break this up if need be)
  5. I clean any old food out of my refrigerator.
  6. I change my sheets and towels (Okay, this one I still do on the same day every week)
And if I get through all that I’m done. Actually, if I get through a little of that, I’m usually done. If I get through one or two weekly housekeeping chores, I give myself some downtime for the rest of the day. The thing is, knowing exactly what to do and getting to it right away actually means that I have more time to rest or to sit and watch the baby sleep. So far at least, it works for me.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cookie Giveaway Winner

And the winner is....


Congrats, Shelly, I'll be emailing you. I need to hear back from you ASAP, or at least in the next 24 hours to make sure I get your info in by the deadline.

Monday, January 24, 2011 70% off and a free $10 card

Ending today, when you enter code ENJOY at check out, you can get 70% off a gift certificate at This would make most $25 certificates cost $3 after coupon. Plus, you can get a free $10 certificate with any order.

Keep in mind, most certificates have minimum order requirements, so these are more like coupons than gift cards, but if there is a restaurant you frequent anyway then this is a great way to save money.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Giveaway: (Slightly belated) Holiday Cookie Exchange pack

One of the things that I didn't get to do as much of this year as I usually like to do at the holidays is to bake cookies. Between the new house and the new baby, I really only managed to get off two different types of cookies, which didn't make a very impressive cookie tray when I went to give them away.

A solution for this I've used in the past when I was busy for other reasons is to have a cookie exchange party. If you're unfamiliar with the concept, you get together with several friends and each bring a different type of cookie. This way, you each leave with a number of different cookies and can give them as beautiful gifts; no one needs to know you didn't make them all yourself! Plus, you get a fun evening with your friends, and cookies eaten during the exchange don't have any calories.

Bake Sweet Memories has some great tips on how to host a cookie exchange, as well as recipes and information about discounts. I was lucky enough to receive a gift from Safeway, Betty Crocker, and Glad through My Blog Spark containing everything I need to host my own cookie exchange, as well as a pack to giveaway. Unfortunately, I wasn't organized enough to get it before the holidays. Fortunately, it doesn't need to be Christmas to enjoy delicious cookies.

Soooo, without further ado, I announce the giveaway. One lucky reader will receive a prize pack consisting of Betty Crocker Sugar Cookie Mix, a GladWare sample pack and a $25 Safeway gift card (also valid at Dominick’s, Tom Thumb, Randalls, Vons, and Genuardi’s), everything you need to host your very own cookie exchange party. To enter, simply visit Bake Sweet Memories and tell me in the comments what cookie recipe you plan to add to your repertoire next year.

You can receive an additional entry for each of the following:

  • Follow me (story3girl) on Twitter and leave a comment with your username
  • Subscribe to my blog and leave a comment saying that you did.

That's it! The giveaway will end January 25th, so get those comments in soon. Good luck!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

$20 Amazon Giftcard for $10 ends tonight!

If you somehow missed it, Living Social has a deal ending in 9 hours for a $20 Amazon giftcard for only $10! Act fast!

Saving in 2011

So one of my goals for the year is to trim the budget a little bit so that we have a little more breathing room and can start making progress on some of our savings. I thought I'd briefly break down some areas where we can save money and which I will be attacking in the months to come.

  1. Utility bills. One area that I would like to trim the budget a little is my utility bills. My water bill in particular has been running pretty high, but I could also cut back on my gas and electricity. This is an area I would love to trim because it's both frugal and green.
  2. Other household bills I'm not sure how much leeway I have on the cable, internet, phone, etc. because we just switched to a new promotional bundle a few months ago, but these are things that are always worth keeping on top of. Also, I should check our cell phone bill for any extras we could cancel.
  3. Groceries At one point, I was quite the coupon queen (or at least the coupon princess), but with less time and all my life changes I have let this slack. While I don't think I'll be on Extreme Couponers any time soon, I would like to cut this to a level that is in balance for my family.
  4. Restaurants This has been our Achilles Heel for a while. I would like to cut back, but I'm not sure how well that would go over, so I'll try to explore some other ways to save.

Does anyone have any other suggestions for budget areas to examine, or anything you'd like to hear my talk more about?

Monday, January 10, 2011


Every year, my resolutions are too ambitious and I can't follow through. This year, my goal is progress, not perfection, so if I can't do all of these things every day/week/month, then my goal is simply to keep improving.

1. Play with the baby every day and do so joyfully.
2. Avoid yelling at my husband.
3. Write at least once a week, whether on the blog, in a paid content site, or just in my journal.
4. Earn at least $20 a week in "extra" cash.
5. Try out one new money making method every month.
6. Reduce monthly expenses by focusing on one major bill each month and exploring ways to cut it.
7. Keep my house clean - try to vacuum, dust and mop entire house at least every two weeks, preferably every week.

What are your resolutions?